I’ve been doing some small-scale troubleshooting jobs for small business and nonprofit organization clients, and I’ve noticed a frustrating trend.
I get called in to look at a display problem for a website. Something seemingly small but weird, like time zone information not working on the calendar page, or images not laying out properly for a team area.
As usual, I ask for a user login to see what’s going on “under the hood.” And there’s almost always some issue with plugins or themes not getting updated.
The Client Training Piece
Although the WordPress interface is relatively friendly to non-coders and non-designers, I have detected a definite lack of education by designers for their clients after they perform their “magic” on a site. Clients are often a bit intimidated by the WordPress dashboard and all those plugins that do need updating. After a couple of years, the child theme itself may need updating as well, but if it doesn’t notify the end user, nothing will happen. Unfortunately, the original designers don’t often hang around to fix things (or they may offer to do maintenance and the client declines). Either way, problems begin to accumulate and end up getting to the point where something important (like an event calendar in my example) doesn’t work right.
That’s where I can come in to fix things, if I can figure out the origin of the error (not always obvious). Sometimes, I’m faced with a theme and/or plugin that didn’t come with the structure for reminding the client about regular updates.
Blocked Path to a Solution
In one case, I faced an unfamiliar page builder plugin that ran an entire site. Great intuitive page editing interface, but it was still at version 5.01 when the update it wanted to do was 6.01. Rather scary. In this particular case, the update required an additional fee to process, unless you had the licensing information from the installed theme framework. But that theme framework itself had never been updated as far as I could tell, and its website didn’t have any information on how to update the plugin for free. The designer had shown the client the basics of updating in the dashboard, but the theme developer never sent notification or a link on where or how to update the theme itself or some of its more powerful plugins.
While the client went to work on trying to re-contact the original designer, I tried a number of different things to fix the time zone problem they were having with their calendar, but none of my efforts worked. This was a “deep” problem, and I knew it would be dangerous to simply try to modify the underlying code of the theme itself. I made sure all places where the time zone should be set were set correctly, but the calendar still didn’t display the right time! It was a real conundrum for me, since I didn’t happen to use that particular theme framework (it was designed specifically for nonprofits).
After several weeks of experimentation, the client finally got the original designer to take a look, and voilà, all was fixed! Turned out that the theme needed a major update(!), one that included dashboard access to a number of the built-in plugins and their updates. Why the designer or the theme developer hadn’t set it up this way in the beginning, I’ll never know.
The client had no way of knowing why their attempts at updating some of their plugins never created results because there was no error message—the update just didn’t happen, and the update notification in the plugin simply continued to say that one needed a license to do the update.
Updating Setup Is So Important!
So, if you are a designer, please make sure your theme framework pushes regular updates into the WordPress dashboard for the client to activate, and that it includes information on linking to updates for included premium plugins.
Old themes and plugins are both frustrating and dangerous from a security standpoint. Let’s make sure regular updates are easy to do. Thanks so much!